Keene State College first-year education majors are acquiring valuable knowledge through hands-on experience working with elementary school students.

The Keene State Education Department has partnered with Project KEEP to give the first-year class an opportunity to enhance their comprehension of a teaching career, according to Darrell Hucks, an education professor at KSC. “Our students are blossoming in ways of understanding that teaching is more than just the academic piece. It’s about being human and connecting,” he explained.

Angelique Inchierca / Photo EDITOR

Angelique Inchierca / Photo EDITOR

Project KEEP is an after-school program for children ranging in ages from kindergarten to fifth grade. The program provides a safe school environment with a plethora of activities for the children to take part in; it includes craft projects, homework help and exercise sport games, according to the Keene Community Education website. “We have had a service-learning collaboration with Project KEEP for our freshmen class since fall semester that is continuing in the spring,” said Hucks.

In the fall, first-year students volunteered at Fuller Elementary School, Franklin Elementary School and Symonds Elementary School. Now that the spring semester has arrived, the program has grown and other local schools are beginning to collaborate with the college’s Education Department, explained Tanya Sturtz, another education professor at KSC. She said a collaboration began this semester with Keene Daycare and Saint Joseph’s after-school program.

Sturtz also emphasized the importance of building confidence as an educator. The collaboration the Education Department has with the local schools is essential for future teachers because it enables them to build self-assurance in their abilities, she added. “It forces them out of their comfort zone. It challenges them to have to engage and have to critically look at things and question things and it’s good for them. Having the confidence built not only in the classroom, but out in the field, is going to make their lives much easier,” she said.

This partnership has opened doors for education majors, providing them with beneficial connections as they venture into their desired care path, continued Sturtz. “Project KEEP has be a very successful partnership, the students have enjoyed it. One of our service learning leaders has actually been hired to work, she is now working at Project KEEP at Franklin. So it creates opportunities for students,” she said.

The time spent at Project KEEP allowed Keene students to take on the role of an educator. Spending time with early elementary school children helps first-year students recognize the different ways in which young minds develop, explained Director of the Keene Community Education Program Janice Barry. “Through interactions and observation they can see how children may be working on their social and emotional skills, such as focus and self-control, perspective-taking and communicating. The KSC volunteers also plan, organize, lead and reflect upon an activity, and, of course, that mirrors the functions of a teacher,” Barry added.

To evaluate the successfulness of the KSC student volunteers, Barry said she relies on teacher responses to give her a fuller understanding of their performances.

Brittany Walker, the Lead Teacher for Project KEEP at the Franklin Elementary School, explained her contentedness with the first-year volunteer students. “The children relate and interact with them and the college students get on their level and have appropriate, interactive conversations. They use appropriate language and are always taking direction and making changes if needed. They are prepared and enjoy planning activities, games and work for the children to do. We love them,” she said.

Hucks and Sturtz both expressed that the collaboration with Project KEEP has been a huge success and the partnership with the program will continue into next year.

Three first-year students were contacted for comment but declined to comment or did not respond to the requests.
Ashley Arnold can be contacted at aarnold@kscequinox.com